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Washington aerospace suppliers are hungry for work with Boeing's biggest rival Airbus

At a time when global aircraft demand is outpacing production and the Washington aerospace cluster is facing competition for aerospace jobs from southern states, over 100 Washington aerospace suppliers attended a sold out event with Airbus, one of the world's largest aircraft manufacturers and Boeing's biggest rival.

The July 18th event, New Horizons for the Supply Chain, was co-hosted by Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance, the region's largest aerospace consortium, and the Washington State Department of Commerce to provide an opportunity for aerospace suppliers to diversify their business.

Airbus procurement officials, David Williams, Andres Budo, Keith Ellis and Latecoere's Director of North America Operations, Bruno Ferrand, met with suppliers over a 3-hour period. Monica Tate (Wiedrich), Aerospace Business Development Manager for the Washington State Department of Commerce, also met with firms to help them navigate the Airbus Tier System and to help find ways for them to fit in. Due to the meeting's high turnout and demand for business to business meetings with Airbus, Tate will continue meeting with suppliers at later dates.

“Navigating the tier system can be complex and we want to make sure that we create solid matches, not only with Airbus, but with the company's Tier 1 suppliers who are looking for new partners in the United States,” Tate said.

Airbus North America's director of procurement, David Williams said that Airbus spends $13 billion dollars in North America and that number is expected to increase to $20 billion by 2020. “Our primary role is to find technology and suppliers that can add value to the supply chain,” he said. "It is a long process to get on the Airbus-approved list. We're a demanding customer." However, he said, “Unless the supplier does something really stupid… they're in it for the long haul with Airbus.”

John Hartmann of Mukilteo-based Electroimpact, a world leader in design and manufacturing of aerospace tooling and automation has worked with Airbus for 25 years. When he began supplying to Airbus, his company had six employees. Today, Electroimpact has over 600 employees and supplies both Airbus and Boeing. He spoke to the group about the challenges and rewards of working with the aerospace giant over time, including the need to adjust to the recently added requirement to assume the responsibility to manage all suppliers.

“We weren't used to managing other suppliers,” Hartmann said. “With Airbus, you have to get involved, and find partners. . . We grew with Airbus. Every project was a little bit bigger. They don't let you rest. You need to stay on your game the entire time.” he concluded.

Frank Nichols, CEO of Silicon Forest, a Vancouver, Washington firm that builds electronic assemblies hopes to eventually establish that kind of relationship. In 2011, Nichols was named one of Washington Manufacturing News' Executives of the Year. His company has been recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in Washington State by the Puget Sound Business Journal and as one of the best places to work by Washington CEO Magazine. With 90 employees ready to meet Airbus' needs, Nichols said he's “hoping to get to some of the right people and open those doors.” Nichols has met with Airbus three times before. “I am banking on persistence and consistency.”

The first of its kind meeting in Washington State was a tremendous success. Over 110 aerospace suppliers attended the event – nearly triple the number PNAA originally anticipated. “The response to this Breakfast Briefing has been impressive, and the opportunities presented by Airbus continue to support and utilize the talented pool of companies in our state,” said Melanie Jordan, PNAA Executive Director.

Custom Interface, Inc. is one of those companies and hopes to offer complex cable and wire harness solutions to Airbus. The Bingen, WA company employs 95 people and supplies materials for unmanned aerial vehicles. According to John Timmer, Customer Program Manager, “Airbus is a beacon of consistency in an ever evolving economy. Expanding with Airbus would help to strengthen our current business through robust partnership.”

He said the PNAA Breakfast Briefing, “offered the invaluable opportunity to actually meet face to face with a key decision maker for a very reputable company.”

“PNAA not only provided the aerospace manufacturing industry with a venue for making contacts with EADS/Airbus, but utilized our expertise in partnering to connect aerospace interests benefitting all involved. The inquiry from EADS/Airbus and the overwhelming response by our supply chain affirms that the Washington Aerospace Cluster continues to be the gravitational center for aerospace manufacturing and that PNAA plays an important role in fulfilling the needs of aerospace stakeholders,” Jordan said. 

Press release issued by PNAA Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance on July 23, 2013


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